UA-40390171-1

NOT BETTER … DIFFERENT by Kevin Cox

My wife, Kathy, and I have had the privilege of starting two churches. The first was in the Seattle area. With no assessment, no training, no coaching, and a little funding, we did the only thing we knew to do: knock on doors and send out mailers.  Unbelievably, it worked! We launched with a solid attendance, especially for the Pacific Northwest. We grew in spite of me and my lack of leadership skills. After 9 ½ years we had developed a reputation for loving on the children of our community. However, as I look back so many of our leadership conversations centered around how we could make the Sunday morning experience “better.” The prevailing thought for us, and for most churches in the early 2000’s was, “If we can just make Sunday morning better, people will want to attend.” And truthfully, for many churches, this mode of thinking bore fruit. We sought better performances on stage from the band. Better facilities. Better sermons. Better lighting. Better projectors and screens. Better children’s ministry. We were so worried about making Sunday morning better, mainly to keep up with the church down the street that was making their Sunday morning experience better, that we had forgotten the mission of Jesus to go make disciples capable of changing the world. The Father in his grace blessed our effort, but something seemed amiss.

After our tenure was over in Seattle, I vividly remember driving over the Cascade Mountains with our four kids in tow and turning to Kathy and saying, “We are going to do it differently this time.” I had no idea then the depth of that statement. We started Vista Church with a less than stellar grand opening. In fact, in the eyes of the church planting world it was horrendous. But in our eyes, that was irrelevant. “Butts in the seats” was not our primary goal…the kingdom of God was. We were not starting a better church in our new community. We were starting a different kind of church and the last 10 years have been the ride of our lives! What does this ‘different’ kind of church look like?

There are six characteristics that stand out:

1. Disproportionate influence

We do not ask the question, “How is my church?” Instead, we ask the question, “How is my city?” Since we desire to see our cities blessed, we often collaborate with city leaders and organizations leading to influence in our cities that far exceeds the size of our churches.

2. Start churches for the world

When you start with the world in mind, your church plant will be shaped by the world. And, when you start your church for the world, you will view your church plant as a sending base that affects the world rather than an isolated congregation in a single community.

3. New DNA 

Kingdom, Disciple, Society, Church (KDSC). Cut us and this is what we bleed. This is FAMILY DNA. Like a magnet, this DNA draws church planters and the Family is growing!

4. Public Square

As Paul engaged the city of Athens, we teach church planters how to engage kings, world leaders, city leaders, philosophers, business people and influencers by speaking ‘one message’ both publicly and privately.

5. Multiethnic

Jesus said, “…on earth as it is in heaven.” If we believe that all ethnicities inhabit heaven, then why should the church not look like that now? If we want to have a voice in the racial division of our country, the multiethnic church is the key.

6. Multifaith

Rather than denigrating other religions, we intentionally seek to befriend them for the purpose of building bridges of peace. Unlike the interfaith efforts of the past where “all roads lead to heaven” was the underlying premise, we have honest conversation based on the fact that we disagree theologically but the best of our religions compels us to work together for the betterment of our cities.

As I write this, I am about to participate in day 2 of a pastor/imam retreat in Ft. Worth, TX where we will make plans for our congregations to work together on a project that serves ‘the least’ in our respective cities. Last week I attended Family Gathering where we challenged our Family with a vision for planting 32 GlocalNet church planting centers around the United States and Canada in the next 10 years. I also received a text from the head football coach at our local high school if I would be willing to lead his team in a devotion before their first playoff game this week. This the different church we envisioned. Do we want to offer our best on Sunday mornings? You bet! But we want to offer our best on Sunday mornings to inspire and equip people for ministry. That’s different. If you are looking to plant a different kind of church, then check us out at www.releaseinitiative.com. We would love for you to be a part of the family! It will be the ride of your life!

My Most Important Discipleship Lessons

There is so much about discipleship that I don’t know.  There is a lot I learned that was wrong.  There was a lot I stumbled into that was right.  I went from a discipleship that focused on learn, grow, and go – to hear and obey.   Had the early church made learn, grow, and go disciples it never would have gotten off the ground because at what point did you know enough?  When were you ready to leave?  Who determined all of that?  But, if discipleship is hear and obey, the primary focus is not what I know but instead my ability to hear God’s voice and then follow it.  The most important thing I’m now going to teach someone isn’t a book study, doctrine series, or information – but it’s how to hear God’s voice.  To do that I have to know how to pray, how to hear God speak when I’m reading his word, how to live in community and hear God speak through other disciples.  Spiritual disciplines are everything.  This discipleship goes through a very different door and produces a very different disciple.  It’s a lot easier to read a book and jump through hoops than it is hear God’s voice and follow it. 

First, I’m always being discipled. 

Many people feel bad that no one ever “discipled” them – but I’m not sure this is as true as it sounds.  One of my Spiritual Fathers, Doug Coe, said that we first have to disciple ourselves.  What he meant by that is that we have to love Jesus so much that we do whatever he says.  No amount of classes or courses can make us do that.  He was right.  Every time I’m in a worship service, I’m being discipled.  Every time I’m listening to someone teach I’m being discipled.  Every time I’m following the Holy Spirit I’m being discipled.  Every time I’m in a prayer meeting I’m being discipled.  For the follower of Jesus all of life is discipleship.  When I’m reading a biography on Washington to learn how he led – Washington is discipling me.  When I’m reading Fareed Zacharias to understand the world, he’s discipling me.  When I read a Rabbi Jonathan Sacks book on relating to other religions – he’s discipling me.  YES, non-Chrisitans can disciple us, too, and often even better than Christians.  When I watch someone serve Jesus like Dan Dubois or Bryan Stockton who worked beside me at Steve Bezner’s church after Hurricane Harvey or watch them at an inner-city festival for poor children  – I’m being discipled by those that I would disciple.  If you see life as one big discipleship opportunity you’ll grow a lot more.  If you see it as a single person pouring into you, you’ll be a spiritual shrimp.  YES, it’s great to have some one on one, but it isn’t the end of the world.  After all, the goal of discipleship is to be a self-feeder that follows Jesus.

Second, the best disciplers in my life don’t give me information but provide me a model. 

A man named Jim Hylton has impacted my life profoundly.  He’s in his 80’s.  Yes, he’s taught me a lot of stuff – but it’s his model of life that has taught me the most.  I’m watching him, a strong follower of Jesus, so I can know how to grow old in grace and bless others.  He models how to stay tender as you get older.  He’s not perfect – he has his flaws and I’ve seen them.  I’m not looking for someone to be Jesus, I’m looking for someone to let Jesus be Jesus in them in spite of their faults. 

Third, the best disciplers walk through tough times with you. 

They listen, they pray, they challenge you, they love you regardless.  Who ever thinks of discipleship as presence?  But you can’t be to others  what someone hasn’t first been to you.  Everyone hurts, everyone hits walls, everyone has struggles, everyone wants to hang it up at times – Jim has sat patiently with me at times and listened to me and loved me.  I’m often asked how did I handle the stress and not give up from taking a white church and transitioning it to multi-ethnic and also a church that has reached deep into other religions to build bridges.  We love everybody at Northwood and that makes for some challenging things at times.  Jim is one of those key reasons I haven’t quit.  I told him one day “maybe I just need to get out of the way” and let someone else do this.  He said “Bob, I want to ask you a question Jesus asked.”  Okay Jim.  “Bob, will you leave me too.”  That question convicted me and bought me another six months!  It took another conversation to make it another 6 months! 

Fourth, the best disciplers make you think for yourself and cause you to learn for yourself. 

Jim has never taken me through a book study – but he’s told me about this book or that book that I’ve read that has caused us to have some deep conversations.  I love the fact he doesn’t just read “religious” books but many kinds of books be they science, psychology, or philosophy.  If he was just teaching me “his” stuff then my growth would be limited to him – but he models learning which enables me to travel my own unique paths of learning and growth.

Fifth, the most important discipleship lesson I can provide is . . . . well, I’ve said enough – I’ll save that for another blog – but it’s really really really BIG!